Baseline for city schools Student tests: Baltimore educators ought to use poor results in elementary schools to draw road map for reform.

November 14, 1997

UNLESS YOU KNOW where you are, it is difficult to get where you need to be. It's important to keep that truism in mind in assessing the shockingly poor results of new achievement tests administered to children in Baltimore City's elementary schools.

The September tests were given to all Baltimore elementary students in grades one through five. They show that city children enter first grade only a few months behind national norms in basic skills. Yet five years later, the achievement levels of these students have fallen as much as a grade-and-a-half behind in reading and about a grade behind in math.

That's a sad situation, but the tests provide educators with essential information. Now they must analyze the test results to answer a pivotal question: What is happening -- or, perhaps more important, not happening -- in those early grades that causes students to fall further behind the longer they attend school?

Are there points during those elementary years which can be targeted for special attention? School board chairman J. Tyson Tildon, for instance, notes that second graders showed particularly slow progress in the recent tests.

What do the scores say about the effectiveness of reading and math instruction by Baltimore elementary school teachers in these crucial early years?

The information gleaned from these initial tests provides support for plans to invest heavily in elementary classrooms. If schools ensure that, by third grade, children are competent readers and are comfortable with math, those students will have the basic skills for tackling higher-level work. If not, the city's school board will be pouring precious resources into expensive remedial work -- while too many children start believing classroom success is out of reach. We commend the school board and interim Superintendent Robert E. Schiller for giving the tests and publicizing the findings.

Now this baseline data can be used to zero in on needed changes. It could help make the difference between reforms that improve academic achievement and a system that continues to allow students to flounder and fail.

This uncomfortable phase of facing the problems in city elementary schools is essential if we are to have any realistic hope of celebrating in future years test scores that show marked improvement in the learning abilities of Baltimore's school children.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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